Golden beaches, remote inlets and shimmering mudflats - the Essex coast is 350 miles of sheer pleasure just waiting to be (re)discovered.
Ironically, it was the buttoned-up Victorians who were the first to truly embrace the idea of heading out to the beach for a spot of fun and relaxation and their legacy survives in the form of towns like Clacton, Frinton and Walton on the Naze. Indeed, the ‘Sunshine Coast’ boasts two of the finest beaches in the country. West Beach at Clacton is every inch a traditional sandy beach with a pier. It is perfect for families with young children, as it has gently shelving sand that runs down to the water’s edge. Nearby, is the Pavilion Fun Park and an excellent choice of bars, cafes and restaurants. Parents will also be assured by the town’s child-safety wristband scheme for those who get lost on the beach.
Walton enjoys some three miles of sandy beaches and the Naze itself, red sandstone cliffs formed in the Ice Age, is a fossil-hunters paradise. The iconic Naze Tower was built in the 1720’s as a navigational aid for passing ships but today is an art gallery and café. According to Trip Advisor, Walton’s beach ranks as excellent. With the pier (Britain’s second-longest) and the pretty beach huts adding to the ambience.
Compared by one visitor as Monaco to Clacton’s Nice, Frinton is a very different proposition. The esplanade is bare, save for a fine, sandy beach and Victorian-style beach huts. This is the legacy of Sir Richard Powell Cooper who - one hundred years ago - oversaw Frinton’s development. His vision starkly contrasted with those of the burghers of neighbouring towns and to this day, Frinton offers a far more serene seaside experience. Couples also enjoy the town’s High Street, which is jam-packed with delightful boutiques, delis and cafes. Famously, there is just the one pub, which in keeping with the rest of the town, is delightful.
Mersea Island has beaches that will delight everyone. West Mersea’s beach is a mixture of sand and pebbles that is popular with day-trippers and locals alike. The water quality is excellent – just ask seventh-generation oyster fisherman Richard Haward, who’s family also own and run the Company Shed restaurant on the island – and there are other facilities to make this a great destination for a brilliant day out.
Of course, no guide to the county’s beaches is complete without mention of Southend-on-Sea.
Upmarket Leigh on Sea’s Bell Wharf beach is located in its characterful old town. The cobbled main street, traditional weather-boarded houses and cockle sheds all add to old Leigh’s charm. It also has some great pubs and restaurants, plus a gallery and up the steep, winding lanes of the cliffs, Leigh itself is a bustling, cosmopolitan town.
Though small, Bell Wharf beach is clean with golden, soft sand. You can enjoy a lazy day here, watching the little fishing boats come and go, or the super ships gliding by on the estuary.
Southend-on-Sea possesses a staggering six miles of beaches. The closest one to Southend’s iconic pier is Three Shells Beach. Compact but kept scrupulously clean and well-presented, it is a magnet to holidaymakers during the summer. It has a tidal pool and is close to all the delights this famous seaside town has to offer; Adventure Island, the legendary pier (the world’s longest pleasure pier), the High Street and cafes, shops and amusements. It's the perfect spot for anyone who wants to swim or paddle.
A Southend ritual, especially on fine, sunny days, is ‘Having a Rossi’ or brunch in one of the cafes overlooking the seafront in Westcliff. The former is the name of the local ice cream producer which gives its name to an almost unchanged 1950’s ice cream parlour come coffee bar nestling below the Cliffs Pavilion theatre. The terrace of cafes, collectively known as ‘The Arches’, tempts customers in with a wide range of classic, British food. Over the road, Westcliff’s beaches are clean and expansive and the water is so clean that oysters have returned.
If you head down the Eastern Esplanade, you’ll have the choice of the superb beaches in Thorpe Bay and Shoeburyness. The latter is a Blue Flag-winning beach consisting of sand, shingle and mud. The promenade is lined with colourful beach huts behind and there are large grassed areas that can be used for a picnic, or to walk your pooch. Famous for its water sports, this area is very popular for sailing, jet skiing, windsurfing and kitesurfing.
In Shoebury, you’ll find East Beach. A combination of a huge expanse of grass, complete with barbecue stations, and a sandy beach. The area is perfect for those who want to spread out and enjoy a sense of space around them and adrenaline junkies, as East Beach is also home to the Essex Kitesurf School .
For more information about all the places mentioned and much more about the Essex coastline, go to www.visitessex.com